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All the King's Horses Couldn't Put Danica Patrick's Car Together Again

Feb 13, 2010 – 7:06 PM
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David Whitley

David Whitley %BloggerTitle%

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Reality bites.

Actually, it crashed on the home straightaway.

Then all the king's horses, swimsuit photographers and Go Daddy producers couldn't put Danica Patrick's car back together again.

"Tough day," she said.

Good day if you think Danica belongs on a massage table and not in a stock car. But Saturday's tough day was hardly a failure.

I mean, what did you expect?

Jeff Gordon crashed and finished 39th in his first Nationwide series race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th.

Brett Favre's first pro pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

A tough day is starting 15th, driving like a tourist and stalling to a stop as you pulled out of the pits. Failure would have been driving scared all day and never getting the hang of this stock car thing.

After some mid-race adjustments, Patrick didn't exactly turn into Jimmie Johnson. But she got comfortable and proved she could handle a muscle machine. Then came the 12-car melee on the 69th lap.

It should be noted that the wreck was not caused by Patrick powdering her nose in turn four.

"I got caught up in an accident just like everybody else," she said.

Well, not quite like everybody else. Earnhardt Jr.'s car turned into a whirly-bird, but approximately 159 fewer reporters and photographers followed the driver back to his garage.

Patrick's presence turned the Drive4COPD 300 into the biggest Nationwide race in history. And if you can think of any other famous Nationwide races, you probably know who Fireball Roberts is.

I'm not sure, but I do know this was nothing like the IndyCar racing Patrick is used to. Everybody has a learning curve. Patrick's Chevy was a mishandling mess at the start. Throw in rookie tentativeness, and it looked like it was time to pull a Super Bowl shuffle.

Patrick made an ad the NFL deemed too risqué to show in last week's game. It featured a gay player-turned-designer and Danica in fishnet hose. It was banned on TV, but Go Daddy just used that to lure people to its website.

In a Go Daddy world, racing fans could have clicked away from Daytona and watched Patrick lap the field while wearing only a towel and a HANS device.

"It's important to have realistic expectations," Patrick said.

And whose fault is it they don't?

If you asked the average Martian to name two race car drivers, it would probably say Richard Petty and Danica Patrick. Petty because he looked good behind the wheel. Patrick because she looked good writhing on the hood.

I don't blame her for capitalizing on her looks, but it can breed more than the usual rookie resentment. Isiah Thomas spearheaded a famous All-Star Game freezeout of Michael Jordan in 1985, just to put the rookie in his place.

NASCAR doesn't appear to have an Isiah. The sport could use a spark and drivers know Patrick can provide a turbo boost. She doesn't have to be Petty. She just can't be Anna Kournikova in a fire suit.

A competitive, good-looking female taking on the Good Old Boys? You couldn't create a better sports script.

That's one reason the drivers like Patrick. The other is she is progressing as well as could be expected. That doesn't mean she's destined to do for NASCAR what she's done for Go Daddy, but she showed there's a real driver under that eyeliner.

But reality says it's going to take time. It always does.

"It wasn't about where she was going to finish," Tony Stewart said. "This week was a learning experience."

History will record she finished 35th. So what did we learn?

Stewart won. He finished 21st in his first NASCAR race, two laps behind the winner.

It was the 1996 Busch (now Nationwide) series race, at the same track Patrick made her debut. It's just that Stewart drove back to the garage that day without the media, the scrutiny and the expectations.

That's what he got for not wearing fishnets.
Filed under: Sports